Cool Chicken Facts

“Scientists are so impressed with what we now know about the intellect of chickens and other birds that a group of international experts recently called for a new naming system to reflect the complex, mammal-like structure of avian brains. Dr. Christine Nicol, who studies chicken intelligence, reflected, ‘They may be ‘bird brains,’ but we need to redefine what we mean by ‘bird brains.’ Chickens have shown us they can do things people didn’t think they could do. There are hidden depths to chickens, definitely.’ ”

Chicken Vision

  • Chickens can see in the ultra-violet spectrum, called tetra-chromatic vision. Refrain from using fluorescent lights, as the chickens will see the light “dance” (a phenomena also experienced by some autistic humans).
  • Chickens have 2 fovea which is why they raise and lower their heads to focus.
  • We have all experienced the one-eyed inspection. Chickens set their heads at angles to take-in objects they are focusing on.
  • They can focus each eye separately; one on the seeds on the ground and the other in the air searching for hawks.
  • With this ability they have a 300 field of vision – but taking in the arching of that long neck and they can easily get a 360.

Smarter Than Your Teenager

Much of the avian brain is devoted to higher cognitive function. Chickens are very socially aware, and their heightened ability to comprehend the thoughts and intents of another is a survival technique. Their ability to plan in advance and deploy impulse control (abilities not developed in humans until one’s early twenties – and even then….well). It is possible to theorize that these abilities may have roots in nesting, as you have to be able to think ahead about where to put those eggs as they will remain in that spot for 21 days. This intelligence allows chickens to learn new skills quickly, including understanding verbal communication and commands, learning their name, learning other chickens’ names, recognizing others in their own flock as well as the identity of other species (individual people, individual pets, wildlife). Memorization skills (key to recalling food sources), are also paramount. Owners will discover that chickens will learn after one trial or episode. This astute function can spell trouble for your flower bed or it can be a bonus for training your birds to come when called – if they feel like coming at the time…

Although, like humans, chickens understand deception, recalcitrance, exhibit self-interest, construct lies, understand the intent of others (and whether to “care”), that the pecking order is created and is flexible, and can “pretend” to be unaware.

Oh, and chickens use the position of the sun to tell time. They know what time is – ask any chicken keeper and this will be immediately vindicated. “It’s half-noon…where’s my treat! You’re really late!”

Chickens have a concept of “self” and understand the properties of how a mirror reflects images. Unlike many other animals, chickens know that what they see in the mirror is their reflection and not another chicken.

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D. – “In my previous book Second Nature I marshal evidence from scientific studies that suggest chickens have a lot more going on upstairs than they are traditionally given credit for. Chickens use and recognize referential calls, they quickly learn the value of restraint, they make self-sacrifices, and they sometimes deliberately deceive others. As for chimps, the evidence for their having a theory of (another’s) mind is so strong that denying it is to use the solipsist crutch that one’s own mind is the only certain thing in the universe. We can always claim an absence of proof in such private matters as another species’ conscious experiences, but the onus of proof is now squarely on those who would deny animals these capacities.” Read more here.

Cool Fact:

Chickens still have the genes for teeth

A new study shows that chickens, which don’t have teeth, still have the genes that make them, and in special cases, those genes can be switched back on. Scientists now think that as animals evolve, they lose the ability to turn those genes on at the right time during development — not the genes themselves.
…read more!

Understanding the Avian Brain

The avian brain is similar to those of mammals, even if it is organized in a unique manner (and that was what threw the old scientists off). The bird brain is capable of complex processing that surpasses that of many mammals. It was an African Grey parrot, named “Alex”, that showed the world that animals could learn human language, abstract symbols, thoughts ideas, and even spell in the foreign species alphabet. Parrots are not “parroting” words, they are fully comprehending the language they are using (if taught properly).

• Birds can understand human language and can hear the tone of speech (why training your chicken is easy).
• Birds can manufacture (understanding the principles and properties of unique materials) and use tools and can recognize the operation of mechanized structures including complicated locking systems
• Birds have mathematical skills and can understand the abstract concept of numbers
• Birds learn to communicate (the FoxP2 gene)
• Birds exhibit cultural learning. They pass on knowledge and novel learning
• Birds comprehend observational learning, use prior knowledge, experience and evidence when considering problems and taking action

Read more here.